Capture of German New Guinea - Australian Naval & Military Expeditionary Force (AN&MEF) 1914-15
Shortly after Britain declared war against Germany on 4 August 1914 , Sir Edward Grey (www.britannica.com) made his now famous statement, ‘The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.’[i]
That evening during a trade union meeting held at Colac, Victoria, Australia’s leader of the Opposition, Andrew Fisher (primeministers.naa.gov.au) told the audience that Australians would stand behind the mother country and if necessary defend her ‘to our last man and our last shilling’. [ii]
‘On 7 August the British War Office requested that Australia seize the German colonies in Nauru, the Caroline Islands and New Guinea. The primary reason for this request was to prevent enemy wireless stations from passing information to the German East Asiatic Squadron of the Imperial German Navy.’ [iii]
On 11 August, His Majesty’s Australian Ships Parramatta, Warrego and Yarra, all destroyers, under cover of the light cruiser HMAS Sydney prepared to attack the enemy ships at anchorage but arrived only to find they had gone; Admiral von Spee had ordered them to sea. In order to destroy the wireless station, the navy landed parties of men at Rabaul and Herbertshöhe but when they learned their objective was well inland it became obvious that an expeditionary force would be needed.
Recruiting for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) commenced on 10 August 1914, and a day later began for a much smaller Australian force whose important achievements would be almost lost in the shadow of the AIF. As a direct result of the Boer War experience and the Universal Training Scheme, Colonel William Holmes (/explore/people/57941)DSO, VD, and his staff were able to train, equip, and embark the AN&MEF (Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force) in less than 10 days.
‘The eighty men forming the South Australian quota of the Australian naval expeditionary force left Adelaide on Saturday for Williamstown, Victoria. The majority of the men are ex-reservists, a large proportion being Imperial navy reservists.’[iv]
Tasked with the capture of all German possessions in the southern Pacific, the AN&MEF consisting of 500 men in six companies of the Royal Australian Naval Reserve, a 1,000-strong infantry battalion, two machine-gun sections, a signals section, and a medical section, steamed out of Sydney Harbour on 19 August 1914; a north Queensland militia battalion joined them at Port Moresby. Of the 500 Navy men, 200 were from New South Wales, 100 from Victoria, 120 from Queensland and 80 from South Australia.
On 19 August, the same day as the AN&MEF left Sydney Harbour, the Morphettville Camp (/explore/campaigns/57) was opened in South Australia, and the first 200 men recruited for the 10th Battalion were sworn in.
That day in Turkey, German warships, Goeben and Breslau, entered the Dardanelles and threatened to sink the French steamer, Saghalien. ‘The captain of the latter induced the Turkish authorities to convoy the vessel with a destroyer to the open sea, placing the Deputy Governor of the Dardanelles on board as a guarantee.’[v]
During a ceremony to bid farewell to the First Foot Guards at Potsdam, on 19 August the Kaiser drew his sword and cried, "I have drawn the sword that with God's help I have kept all these years in the scabbard. I have drawn the sword which without victory and without honor I can not sheathe again. You are my guarantee that I can dictate peace to my enemies. Up and at the foes, and down with enemies of Brandenburg!"[vi]
Meanwhile the troops of the AN&MEF after a period of intense training at Palm Island, near the Townsville, sailed for Port Moresby and waited there for the RAN ships who would support them.
‘On 7 September the force, now including Australia, the cruisers Sydney and HMAS Encounter, the destroyers Parramatta, Warrego and Yarra, and the submarines HMAS AE1 (www.navy.gov.au) and HMAS AE2 (www.navy.gov.au) sailed for Rabaul.’[vii]
The wireless station on Nauru was quickly captured on 9 September bur two days later when a force of navy men attacked and captured the strongly defended station at Bita Paka (en.wikipedia.org), Australia suffered her first combat casualties of the Great War.
Able Seaman William George Vincent Williams (/explore/people/778284) who died of wounds that day was the first recorded Australian combat casualty of the Great War, Captain Brian Colden Antill Pockley (www.awm.gov.au) AAMC who died of wounds that day was the first Australian officer killed in the Great War. Able Seaman John Edward Walker (/explore/people/135728) (served as Courtney) was killed, Able Seaman Henry William Street (/explore/people/778307) was killed, Able Seaman Robert David Moffatt (/explore/people/778285) died of wounds that day and Lieutenant Commander Charles Bingham Elwell (/explore/people/778291) of the Royal Navy (attached) was killed that day
The Royal Australian Navy's first submarine HMAS AE1 left Blanche Bay, New Britain accompanied by HMAS Parramatta and disappeared without trace on 14 September. It is believed the AE1 crewed by 35 officers and men of the RAN and RN struck an uncharted reef and sank.
Although the overwhelming majority of the infantrymen in the AN&MEF were from New South Wales there were a few from all other states including these from South Australia.
Private Charles Richard Dare (/explore/people/250052)of Edithburgh was working in Sydney as a Tram Guard before he enlisted on 11 August 1914. He served with E Company, Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (Tropical Unit and returned to Australia
Private Harle Percival Montroy (/explore/people/105806)of Adelaide was a Cook before he enlisted on 11 August 1914. He served with D Company, Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (Tropical Unit), and returned to Australia
Private Thomas Wilson Sketheway (/explore/people/299878)of Adelaide was a Fireman before he enlisted on 11 August 1914. He served with the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force and upon his return to Australia enlisted in the AIF. He embarked with the 4th quota of reinforcements for the 13th Battalion and later served with the 12th Machine Gun Company. He returned to Australia on 17 March 1917.
Corporal Grahame Balfour-Ogilvy (/explore/people/778189) of Dulwich was a Horticulturist before he enlisted as a reinforcement for the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force on 22 May 1916. He was later initially posted to D Company until he returned to Australia and was discharged in November 1917. He died of a war related illness on 10 January 1921 and is buried in St Lawrence Churchyard, Sandhurst, Gloucestershire, England.
Major James Harry Smith Olifent (/explore/people/155856)VD of Glenelg enlisted as a reinforcement for the Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force on 1 September 1916. He was later appointed to the position of District Officer and OC of the garrison at Aitape, New Guinea but was returned to Australia on 5 May 1920 and three days later was admitted seriously ill to Cairns, Hosital in Queensland; he died there on 30 May 1920.
The AN&MEF achieved all of their objectives and following the German surrender raised the Union Jack in Rabaul on 13 September 1914. ‘Nadang was occupied on September 24, New Ireland on October 17, Nauru on November 6, the Admiralty and Western Islands on November 19, and the German Solomon Islands on December 9. The A.N.M.E.F. left New Guinea on January 9, 1915, having been relieved by the specially recruited Tropical Force.’[viii]
In the process of successfully completing their mission, the AN&MEF achieved the following notable Australian firsts in the Great War.
They were the first military expeditionary force planned and coordinated by Australia for overseas service.
The first to conduct land operations against an enemy force, first to conduct an amphibious landing on enemy held territory, first to conduct joint operations and the first to conduct coalition operations.
The first decorated Australian was Lieutenant Thomas Arthur Bond (/explore/people/233341)DSO, the first combat casualties of the war, the first RAN warship lost, and the first enemy warship sunk.’[ix]
Australia maintained an occupation force in New Guinea comprised of the 'Special Tropical Force' until the war's end.
For further reading - Australian Naval and Military Expeditionary Force (www.awm.gov.au)
Our Boys - http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article59300230 (nla.gov.au)
 Kokopo - Town in Papua New Guinea
 Originally designated Australian Imperial Expeditionary Force (AIEF) by Minister for Defence Senator Millen
[i] Bean, C E W, Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918, Vol I - Angus & Robertson, 1921, p. 18
[ii] ibid, p. 16
[iii] Kerr G, Lieutenant Commander, RAN - Before Gallipoli - Australian Operations in 1914 – Royal Australian Navy Website - http://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/gallipoli-australian-operations-1914
[iv] Naval Expeditionary Force. (1914, August 19). Border Watch (Mount Gambier, SA : 1861 - 1954), p. 4.
[v] The European War. (1914, August 21). The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA : 1889 - 1931), p. 7
[vii] Kerr G, Lieutenant Commander, RAN - Before Gallipoli - Australian Operations in 1914 – Royal Australian Navy Website - http://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/gallipoli-australian-operations-1914
[viii] Twentieth Anniversary. (1934, August 18). The Sydney Morning Herald (NSW : 1842 - 1954), p. 20.
[ix] Source: Kerr G, Lieutenant Commander, RAN - Before Gallipoli - Australian Operations in 1914 – Royal Australian Navy Website - http://www.navy.gov.au/history/feature-histories/gallipoli-australian-operations-1914
Elsa Reuter (c) 2016